GAZA: A Palestinian child wounded during Zionist bombardment is carried into Nasser hospital in Khan Yunis in the southern Gaza Strip on Dec 5, 2023. - AFP
GAZA: A Palestinian child wounded during Zionist bombardment is carried into Nasser hospital in Khan Yunis in the southern Gaza Strip on Dec 5, 2023. - AFP
‘Hellish scenario’ in Gaza as death toll tops 16,200

GAZA: Zionist forces battled Hamas militants in southern Gaza on Tuesday, prompting a UN warning of an “even more hellish scenario” as fighting pushes civilians into a steadily shrinking area of the besieged territory. The army launched its ground invasion in Gaza’s north, sending in troops and tanks to destroy Hamas and free captives taken in unprecedented Oct 7 cross-border attacks.

After an air and ground assault that has displaced tens of thousands and reduced much of the north to rubble, the army said it had moved south as it targets “Hamas strongholds throughout the Gaza Strip”. Zionist tanks, armored personnel carriers and bulldozers were seen near the southern Gaza city of Khan Yunis, forcing already displaced civilians to pack up and flee again, witnesses told AFP.

With top Hamas leaders still at large and many hostages still in militant hands, the Zionist army said it was taking “aggressive” action against Palestinian militants in Khan Yunis, Gaza’s second-largest city. The health ministry in Gaza says the war has killed 16,248 people in the territory, around 70 percent of them women and children.

International aid organizations have warned that civilians in the densely populated Strip are running out of places to flee to. “Nowhere is safe in Gaza and there is nowhere left to go,” said Lynn Hastings, UN humanitarian coordinator for the Palestinian territories. “If possible, an even more hellish scenario is about to unfold, one in which humanitarian operations may not be able to respond,” Hastings said in a statement.

Ambulances, trucks and other vehicles delivered more bloodied, dust-covered casualties to Khan Yunis’s Nasser hospital, including children. Mohammed Saloul said he had received a call saying his sister had been killed in an air strike on a school where displaced people were sheltering. “We headed there and asked the medics to help us but they said they couldn’t access it, so we had to carry her body ourselves,” he said.

After visiting another medical facility in the city, the European Hospital, International Committee of the Red Cross president Mirjana Spoljaric said she saw horrors that were hard to describe. “What shocked me the most were the children with atrocious injuries and at the same time having lost their parents with no one looking after them,” she said in a video. Their belongings piled onto donkey carts, battered vehicles and even camels, Gazans headed south to try to escape the expanding Zionist offensive.

An estimated 1.8 million people are displaced in Gaza — roughly three-quarters of the population, according to UN figures. A Zionist order for people to move from Khan Yunis to the southern city of Rafah “created panic, fear and anxiety”, according to Philippe Lazzarini, head of the UN agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA). People were being pushed into an area that is less than one-third of the Gaza Strip, with roads to the south clogged, he said.

In northern Gaza, the military said it had encircled the Jabalia refugee camp and also raided a Hamas Internal Security Forces command and control center. It said the number of Zionist soldiers killed since the war began had risen to 80.

The World Health Organization said that it had almost completely emptied its aid warehouses in southern Gaza after being “advised” by the Zionist army that “active combat” was looming. The Zionist entity has denied that it ordered the WHO to empty its two warehouses in Khan Yunis.

Key ally the United States has cautioned the Zionist entity to do more to avert civilian casualties as operations shift to the south. The Zionist entity on Monday said it was not seeking to force Palestinian civilians to permanently leave their homes, but that it was instead seeking support from aid groups to improve infrastructure in a tiny coastal area of Gaza named Al-Mawasi.

As well as dropping leaflets telling Palestinian civilians to evacuate, the army has been warning people in Gaza to leave certain areas ahead of impending strikes via messages to mobile phones. But on Monday, all mobile and telephone services were cut across Gaza, according to Palestinian telecommunications firm Paltel.

Media workers have paid a heavy price reporting on the conflict. The Committee to Protect Journalists, a New York-based rights group, said it had documented 63 journalists and media workers killed in the war: 56 Palestinians, four Zionists and three Lebanese. The fighting follows the collapse on Friday of a Qatar-mediated truce that saw scores of Zionist and other captives released in exchange for Palestinian prisoners.

Hamas has ruled out more releases until a permanent ceasefire is agreed. The war has sparked fears of a wider regional conflict, with frequent exchanges of fire with Iran-backed Hezbollah across the Zionist entity’s border with Lebanon. The Zionist military said its fighter jets had struck Hezbollah positions in response to cross-border fire from Lebanon. The Lebanese army said one of its soldiers was killed by Zionist fire on Tuesday — the first such death since cross-border hostilities began in October. The Zionist-occupied West Bank has also seen a surge in violence, with more than 250 Palestinians killed there since the war began, according to Palestinian authorities. 

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